Looking retrospectively on the George H. W. Bush presidency with the luxury of some time, especially in comparative terms with the current resident in the Oval Office, Bush has been shown to exhibit the qualities of modesty by attempting not to call attention to himself and his accomplishments. He presented the image of the compassionate conservative who dedicated his entire adult life to military and then government service.
He helped lead the world during difficult times at the close of the Cold War. He offered pragmatism over dogmatic ideology by coming together with bipartisan solutions to the looming deficits in government expenditures. And most of all, he was a caring and loving husband and father, and he wished to be remembered as a man who did his best for his family and for the nation.
Unfortunately, however, I remember George H. W. Bush very differently from those who are rushing to commit him to sainthood. Many of us demonstrated throughout the Reagan-Bush years for their criminal — yes, criminal — behavior in failing to organize an appropriate response to the AIDS pandemic.
I shed no tears for either of their passings. At the time, we were considered as belonging to what was termed the “4H Club”: homosexuals, people with hemophilia, heroin users, and Haitians — all but the second considered as “marginals” and “others” who didn’t deserve a comprehensive response to the crisis.
In 1989, the United States Department of Health and Human Services issued its “Report on the Secretary’s Task Force on Youth Suicide.” It found:
“A majority of suicide attempts by homosexuals occur during their youth, and gay youth are two to three times more likely to attempt suicide than other young people. They may comprise up to 30% of [the estimated 5,000] completed youth suicides annually.”
The report’s recommendations included: “[M]ental health and youth service agencies can provide acceptance and support for young homosexuals, train their personnel on gay issues, and provide appropriate gay adult role models; schools can protect gay youth from abuse from their peers and provide accurate information about homosexuality in health curricula; families should accept their child and work toward educating themselves about the development and nature of homosexuality.”
According to Kevin Berrill, Director of the Anti-Violence Project of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force at the time of the report’s release stated, “The increased risk of suicide facing these youth is linked to growing up in a society that teaches them to hide and to hate themselves. We welcome this report and hope it will lead to action that will save lives.”
Initially, however, the report was suppressed by the George H. W. Bush administration under pressure from right-wing groups and by conservatives in Congress.
After the findings, William Dannemeyer, who was then a conservative Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from California, called for President Bush to “dismiss from public service all persons still employed who concocted this homosexual pledge of allegiance and sealed the lid on these misjudgments for good.”
Bush’s HHS Secretary Louis Sullivan wrote in a letter to Dannemeyer that the study “undermined the institution of the family.”
The findings of the report were eventually leaked to the press, which forced the Bush administration to finally release it to the public.
How “compassionate,” in fact, were the attitudes and policy initiatives under the George H. W. Bush administration, and what will be its legacy over the decades? Additional time is certainly needed for the jury to come back with its judgments.
On responding to the AIDS pandemic and his “compassion” for LGBT people, this juror rules that George W. H. Bush (and his co-conspirator Ronald Reagan) should have been incarcerated rather than canonized!